What the Future will bring: America faces the most significant test of its democracy since the Civil War
“Are you on the side of truth or lies; fact or fiction; justice or injustice; democracy or autocracy?” – President Joe Biden
In a speech at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on July 13, President Joe Biden asked his audience to take a stand as he called defending the right to vote in America, “a test of our time.”
Biden explained that the 2020 election has been examined and reexamined and that “no other election has ever been held under such scrutiny and such high standards.” The Big Lie that Trump won is just that, he said: a big lie.
Nonetheless, 17 Republican-dominated states have enacted 28 laws to make it harder to vote. There are almost 400 more in the hopper. Biden called this effort “the 21st-century Jim Crow,” and promised to fight it. He pointed out that the new laws are doing more than suppressing the vote. They are taking the power to count the vote “from independent election administrators who work for the people” and giving it to “polarized state legislatures and partisan actors who work for political parties.”
“This is simple,” Biden said. “This is election subversion. It’s the most dangerous threat to voting and the integrity of free and fair elections in our history.”
While Biden was on his way to Philadelphia, more than 50 members of the Texas House of Representatives were fleeing the state to deny the Republicans in the legislature enough people to be able to do business. They are trying to stop the Republicans from passing measures that would further suppress the vote, just as they did when they left the state in May.
Along with voting measures, the Texas Republicans want to pass others enflaming the culture wars in the state: bills to stop the teaching of Critical Race Theory in public schools – where it is not taught – and to keep transgender athletes from competing on high school sports teams. Both of these issues are part of a wider program pushed by national right-wing organizations.
When the Democrats left the state two months ago, Republican governor Greg Abbott was so angry he vetoed funding for the legislature – that effort is being challenged in court. This time, he has vowed to arrest the Democratic members and hold them inside the Capitol until the special session of the legislature ends in late August. This threat has no effect outside of Texas, where state authorities have no power, and even within the state it is unclear what law the legislators are breaking.
But it does raise the vision of a Republican governor arresting Democratic lawmakers who refuse to do his bidding.
What is at stake in Texas at the local level is that Abbott is smarting from two major failures of the electrical grid on his watch: one in February and one in June. What is at stake at the national level is that the electoral math says that Republicans cannot expect to win the White House in the future unless they carry Texas, with its 40 electoral votes, and the state seems close enough to turning Democratic that Abbott in 2020 ordered the removal of drop boxes for ballots. The electrical crisis of February, which killed nearly 200 Texans and in which Republican senator Ted Cruz was filmed leaving the state to go to Cancun, has hurt the Republican Party there.
And so, Abbott and his fellow Republicans are consolidating their power, planning to “win” in 2022 and 2024 by making sure Democrats cannot vote.
Biden went farther than he ever has before in calling out Republicans for what they are doing. He described the attempt to cast doubt on the 2020 election and to rig the vote before 2022 for what it is: an attempt to subvert democracy and steal the election. “Have you no shame?” he asked his Republican colleagues.
But as strongly as Biden worded his speech, the former speechwriter for Republican President George W. Bush, David Frum, in The Atlantic went further.
“Those who uphold the American constitutional order need to understand what they are facing,” Frum wrote. “Trump incited his followers to try to thwart an election result, and to kill or threaten Trump’s own vice president if he would not or could not deliver on Trump’s crazy scheme to keep power.”
Since the insurrection, he noted, Trump supporters have embraced the idea that the people who hold office under our government are illegitimate and that, therefore, overturning the election is a patriotic duty.
“It’s time,” Frum said, “to start using the F-word.” The word he meant is “fascism.”
“We are facing the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War,” Biden said today…. I’m not saying this to alarm you; I’m saying this because you should be alarmed.”
We must, he said, have “the will to save and strengthen our democracy.”
Letters from an Аmerican is a daily email newsletter written by Heather Cox Richardson, about the history behind today’s politics